Back in Perth – new directions old directions

Dear readers, I have been active with other priorities and not blogged much. Now that I’m busier, I’ll probably blog more.  I hope you enjoy the new blog page style. I updated my June post on Sri Lanka and added a lot of photos.

I returned to Perth about 12 weeks ago. I applied for many jobs and finally accepted an interesting role starting on Monday, 14 November.  In order to generate income for paying bills I usually work as a in government on social policy development and project management.  I always find work though it can take about 2 months of applying.  This time it took nearly 3 months…

I enjoyed my recent trips to Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom. On the first trip to Sri Lanka (3.5 weeks in June 2011) I stayed with Bhante Nyanatusita at the Forest Hermitage where I installed mosquito screens, door handles, and tidied up a storage area. Bhante and I also went on a 5 day tour of places north of Kandy. We hiked in forests and climbed hills. I really enjoyed visiting ancient monasteries at Ritigala and Kaluda Pokuna as well as several significant sites at Anuradhapura.  I learned a lot from close association with Bhante and our Dhamma discussions.

The second trip was only about 10 days and again mostly in Kandy working at the Forest Hermitage. Bhante and I installed a wifi antenna with lightning protection on the roof and significantly improved Bhante’s Internet connection.

The detailed map located just past the main entry gate to Udawattakele, Kandy, Sri Lanka
Old sign for the Forest Hermitage, Udawattakele, Kandy, Sri Lanka

Michael made two mosquito screens with scrap wood and left over mesh at the Forest Hermitage in June 2011. These two screens were installed in the window frames of the outside kuti sometimes used by guest monks.

Inside the outside kuti sometimes used by guest monks at the Forest Hermitage, Kandy, Sri Lanka, June 2011

Shaded meditation walking path near outside kuti, Forest Hermitage, Kandy, Sri Lanka

Wifi antenna installed on the Forest Hermitage roof, 13 August 2011. It is not quite finished. After this photo we attached three metal pipes connecting the antenna pole to the solar panel frame. These connections were insulated to prevent any lightning current flowing between them. The green wire in the photo is an earth wire that leads from the lightning attractor above the antenna itself down to a lightning rod embedded in the ground. You can see the white plastic pipe protecting the wire from the antenna and entering a small hole in the roof tile.

A new LED lamp for an existing socket at the Forest Hermitage, Kandy, Sri Lanka, June 2011

New lamps, medicine and ARRID plugs for the 12 volt electrical solar powered system at the Forest Hermitage, Kandy, Sri Lanka, June 2012

My second trip (10 days in August 2011) coincided with the Australian cricket team’s tour of Sri Lanka which I had no interest in. It also coincided with the annual 10 day Perahera festival held in Kandy. I have little interest in colourful parades mainly because I don’t like mixing with crowds of people. I saw parts of the parade when I was in town shopping for items to install the wifi antenna. The parade is very popular among Sri Lankan people.

Michael & an elephant at the forecourt of the Temple of the Sacred Tooth, Kandy, Sri Lanka, 10 August 2011 (photo taken by Ven. Nyanatusita)

Corner of Dalada Veediya and Yatinuvara Veediya, Kandy, Sri Lanka, 13 August 2011.  People were sitting on plastic sheets on the pavements waiting for the Perahera festival parade so pedestians had to walk on the roads to get around. 
My trip to the United Kingdom was my first trip to the mother country since 1974. Except for my own two children, all other members of my Australian family (two parents and three siblings) had visited more recently and some have visited many times. I had a mild case of culture shock when I first arrived at Heathrow Airport and then spent my first week mostly in Wittering (near Chichester), Sussex. The weather was sunny and warm almost the whole time I was in the UK, even in Scotland.  I then went to Telford in Shropshire; Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen in Scotland; and then Beverley, Hull and Polkington in Yorkshire. I visited most but not all of my UK relations. I was warmly welcomed by all and I learned a lot about family history.

This trip to Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom was part of my exploration of ways to live a spiritual life as a lay man. I validated this approach and am very confident that this is the right thing for me to do it (not saying this is the right thing for everyone).  In previous blog posts I wrote about getting stuck at the same point during Mahasi method vipassana meditation retreats. Since January 2010 I changed my primary meditation practice to samatha though I am still doing satipaathana (mindfulness of body, feelings, mind and dhamma; it has always been a combination of samatha and vipassana).

Some might say that I have not tried hard enough. I am not keen on metaphorically bashing my head on a brick wall. I believe the path is gradual and gentle.  I think the right amount of viriya-energy arises with the right amount of samaadhi-concentration. An imbalance in the faculties is an obstacle.

On these two recent trips to Sri Lanka I kept precepts and offered items and service to the Sangha that stays at the Forest Hermitage.I also participated in Dhamma discussions with Bhante and others. I listened to and read  Dhamma. Although positive and wholesome, these good deeds maybe less important or virtuous than bhavanaa-mental development through vipassana and samatha.  However, the importance of developing samaadi.t.thi-Right View cannot be overstated. Dhamma discussion, hearing the Dhamma and asking pertient questions are all excellent ways of developing and supporting Samaadi.t.thi.


Quick tour – Ritigala, Anuradhapura, Mahintale, Dambulla

Sri Lanka, June 2011

On Friday last week, Ven. Nyanatusita and I took a bus from Kandy to Matale and visited the Aluvihare Rock Temple. There were some interesting paintings and caves converted into small buildings. Many Sri Lankan pilgrims and a few foreign tourists were walking around.

A view looking West from the main gate up the hill toward the Aluvihare Rock Temple, near Matale, Sri Lanka, June 2011
A view looking east at a courtyard between boulders at the Aluvihare Rock Temple, near Matale, Sri Lanka, June 2011

Michael near a moustached lion figure at the Aluvihare Rock Temple, near Matale, Sri Lanka, June 2011

After walking around, we ate lunch and then took a bus north to Dambulla where we thought we might be able to climb the hill to see the cave paintings. We arrived around 2pm in the hottest part of the day. There were many pilgrims perhaps returning from the Poson Poya (possibly the most significant uposatha day in Sri Lanka – Thursday, 16 June 2011) celebrations in Anuradhapura and Mahintale. We heard a report that there were over 5000 Sri Lankan Police Officers mobilized to monitor over 1,000,000 pilgrims. We decided to visit the Dambulla caves another day and walked across the road to drink tea at the “Tourist Welfare Center”.

We then rode a three-wheeler towards Sigiriya stopping at a national park where we walked around inspecting the remains of an ancient meditation monastery.  I was very impressed with this place. It was quite overgrown in many parts and the paths not clear. We explored many old cave sites and found evidence of kutis being built hanging between large boulders. I felt inspired and imagined the ancient Sangha living on the site possibly over many hundreds of years.  After 2-3 hours we got back in the three-wheeler and continued on to the Pidurangala Temple located at the base of a large granite hill 800m north of the more famous Sigiriya. The young pirivena monks allowed us to stay the night in the dusty local village headman’s office including an ensuite occupied by many varieties of local frogs.

On Saturday morning, we climbed the stairs to view various cave kutis (meditation huts) and ruins. Unfortunately none of the kutis were occupied. Though looking well built on the outside, the kutis stank of bat faeces and needed repairs. We doubted any meditation monks would like to live there now because of the steady traffic of curious tourists and pilgrims walking by. We climbed up the hill and through some boulder strewn areas to reach the flat peak. I didn’t see the easy way at first and took a rather dangerous and steep climb with no supports.  We passed a young English woman on the way up who also later climbed the hard way. After a false start, I expressed respect for mutual bravery. Shortly afterwards some Sri Lankan people and more foreigners arrived (the easy way). The top of the hill is spectacular. The winds were gusting strongly and could be dangerous for people near the edges. There are no railings so visitors must take care. It is best to go early in the morning or late in the afternoon to avoid the heat of the day. The rock would become very hot.  We could see nearby Sigiriya and in the distance also see the hill with the Dambulla cave temple.

A restored reclining Buddha statue at the ancient ruins of a monastery near Sigira, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 

A view looking south at the ancient ruins of a monastery near Sigira, Sri Lanka, June 2011

A view west at a modern Buddha statue at a monastery near Sigira, Sri Lanka, June 2011

A view looking north at a monastery near Sigira, Sri Lanka, June 2011. The kuti under the rock in the photo was built over 20 years ago and abandoned. It is now inhabited by bats.

A view looking northwest at the ancient ruins of a monastery near Sigira, Sri Lanka, June 2011

The central buildings of a monastery near Ritigala, Sri Lanka, June 2011.  The building on the left is used as a dining hall and is built under a large boulder.

Michael climbing the hill where the stupa was being constructed at Ritigala, Sri Lanka, June 2011

Michael climbing between boulders on the hill where the stupa was being constructed at Ritigala, Sri Lanka, June 2011

A makeshift ladder near the top of a hill where the local Ritigala monks wanted to build a stupa, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 

Michael feeling rather nervous after getting off the ladder near the top of a hill where the local Ritigala monks wanted to build a stupa, Sri Lanka, June 2011

The top of a hill where the local Ritigala monks wanted to build a stupa, Sri Lanka, June 2011

Michael near the top of a hill where the local Ritigala monks wanted to build a stupa, Sri Lanka, June 2011

A rough path on the side of the hill where the local Ritigala monks wanted to build a stupa, Sri Lanka, June 2011.  This section of the path is relatively easy to walk on.

Michael scrambling down the hill where the stupa was being constructed at Ritigala, Sri Lanka, June 2011

Sunday , Amarvarti, Abhayagiri Vihara, Abhayagiri stupa, Great Stupa

Monday Anuradhapura Mahabodhi tree, 

Tuesday Mahintale many cave kutis and stupas, Kaludiya Pokuna

Wednesday Mahintale  many cave kutis and stupas

Some ruins at Abhayagiri monasteryAnuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 

Some ruins at Abhayagiri monasteryAnuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 
Some ruins at Abhayagiri monasteryAnuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 

The restored elephant tank at the ruins of Abhayagiri monastery, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 

Restoration work at the Abhayagiri stupa, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. There are probably 30-40 monkeys not quite visible in this photo, climbing around the framework and making a lot of noise.

Restoration work at the Abhayagiri stupa, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. 

The Great Stupa at night, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011. Michael sensed something very special about this stupa.

Looking north towards the Great Stupa, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011

A water catchment “tank” near the Great Stupa at Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, June 2011

Kaludiya Pokuna, Mahintale, Sri Lanka, June 2011

I got safely back to Kandy last night (Wednesday) around 9pm. The 100km ride from Dambulla at night was thrilling. The fare was about 60 cents each with front seats to a rally car race in which out bus was participating. I’ve done it before in Thailand but this was perhaps more intense. I just let it happen and enjoyed the ride and the psychedelic light show above the dashboard glorifying various Buddhist and Hindu deities. Many cyclists with no lights and chaotic traffic weaving in and out, sudden stops and turns. Bald tires, soft suspension and bouncy seats set to a sound track of falsetto vocals and deep bass drums etc. At the second last town the bus filled beyond capacity and I had to keep my arms out to stop people sitting or falling on me.  All a memory now.

I’m flying to London on Monday 27 June. Not long now. I’ve been sort of preparing by downloading travel guides for England and Scotland and even reading the text of Macbeth which I hope to see performed at Stratford Upon Avon sometime in July or August.

Maybe England first in early to mid July and then Scotland in late July-August.

Note: I didn’t get around to writing this posting in as much detail as I’d planned.

International Petition to Protect Lumbini’s Environment

I encourage readers to research this issue and (electronically) sign the petition. There is room for you to leave comments on the petition form if you wish.

Here is an on line document related to the peititon with back ground information that you may find interesting.

Here is a recent op-ed piece in the Kathmandu Post written by James G. Heller about this issue:

I hope the Government of Nepal can create more employment and develop industry for the economic prosperity of its people. I can’t see any factories nearby Lumbini on Google Maps. There are many farms nearby. I remember the roads all around are narrow and very poor quality with many pot holes (probably created by cement trucks).

The Nepal Government is already aware of the sensitivity of this area and has responded to international pressure by preserving this World Heritage area many years ago. There has been a lot of international funds (Japanese and Taiwanese etc.) invested at the site and the Nepal Government agreed to move an old Hindu temple that had been built on top of the Buddha’s birth spot. The old carving of Queen Mahaamaaya giving birth to the Bodhisatta was interpreted wrongly by later Hindus as a Hindu goddess so they built a Hindu temple around it. Now the Hindu temple is moved to another location and the birth site preserved as a sacred Buddhist site. Though now it is less sacred than it is an archaeological site, where many Hindu and Muslim tourists pass through every day, laughing and joking.

Most of these Buddhist sacred sites in India and Nepal are preserved as large parks with lots of grass and trees. International funding for gardeners and walls and ticket offices are helping this. Then the locals use these places as recreational parks for family picnics and romance. I saw it with my own sad eyes. There is even graffiti on stupas such as the Dhamek Stupa in Sarnath (Isipitana) where the Lord Buddha set the wheel of the Dhamma rolling with the first Dhamma talk (Dhammacakkhapavatana sutta) to the first five disciples (pancasaavakii) . Foreigners must pay about US$5 to enter these parks while locals pay about 20 cents each.

I went to Lumbini in December 2009. From memory there appeared to be more dust and pollution from deforestation than any factories. There seemed to be a lot of soil erosion in the area. It is not mountainous in this southern part of Nepal, very close to the northern border of India. This whole area was once verdant with forests. Locals use wood for fuel to cook and heat their houses. Hindus also burn wood as part of their rituals for fire worship. Now with massive population increase due to better food and medical facilities (though these are still very bad compared to many other countries), there is great demand for resources.

Image from

The column on the left is an Asoka pillar. The white building is a steel framed structure sheltering the birth spot of the Buddha Gotama.  There is a tank in the foreground and behind the photographer is a large Bodhi Tree. The ticket office is outside the frame to the right.  I wrote about my experience visiting this place in December 2009.

I doubt this petition will help the people of Nepal or prevent the decline of Buddhist parks and sacred sites. All these places will disappear sooner or later. It is dhamma – conditioned phenomena. Try not to be too attached to them. It is better to work for your own salvation and the well being of living people. It may be that with some better living conditions and a better environment, Nepalese and Indian people can learn to appreciate their heritage. Maybe not though. Australians don’t appreciate Australian heritage very much. Little is done to preserve Aboriginal culture. Sacred sites are bulldozed for mines and railways. This sort of thing happens in every country.

There is also a danger that instead of taking real world political action, many people sitting at home will feel comforted by signing a petition safely in Australia or Canada far from the suffering of the Nepal and Indian people.  I’m not sure that signing petitions such as this counts as ‘socially engaged Buddhism’.  However, it may be the beginning of a more active involvement.

Even so, I signed the petition and encourage you to also sign. Perhaps if many people sign the petition there maybe change for the better.

I quote below half of a sutta from the Sutta Nipaata with a reference to Lumbini as the birthplace of BuddhaGotama. I don’t quite like the style of the translation – it is a bit archaic and may be difficult for ESL people to understand. I changed a few phrases but tried not to interfere too much. The numbers in square brackets refer to the verse number.  The published translation also included Paali text in Roman characters that I have not reproduced in this blog.

Naalakasutta The Discourse to Naalaka in the Sutta Nipaata, translated into English by N. A. Jayawickrama [alternative translation by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu]

The seer Asita saw at this noonday rest the shining ones of Taavati.msa (together) with Inda and the deva (clad) in immaculate clothing, overjoyed  and delighted, exultantly singing praises, clutching their garments; [679]

Seeing the deva with joyful hearts and intent, showing due respect, he said therat: ‘Why are the shining ones in such high festive appearance and for what reason do you take garments in hand and twirl them?'[680]

When the war was on with the Asuras and victory  was with the deva and the Asuras were defeated, even then there was no hair-raising (merriment) such as this; seeing what miracle are the deva delighted?’ [681]

‘They whistle, sing, play instrumental music, clap hands and dance; I ask you, O dwellers on the summit of Mount Meru, soon dispel my doubt.’ [682]

(The deva)
‘That Enlightened One-to-be, the noble treasure beyond compare, is born in the human world for (their) weal and welfare, in the village of Lumbini, in the territory of the Sakyans; therefore are we pleased and in such high festive appearance.’ [683]

‘He, the noblest among all beings, the highest individual, the mighty bull among men, the noblest among all creatures, like the roaring lion, the mighty king of beasts will set in motion the wheel (of the Dhamma) and forest grove named Isi.’ [684] [“Isi” refers to Isipitana, also known as Sarnath, near old Benares which is now known as Varanasi]

Then listening to that word he hastily descended and went to the abode of Suddhodana; seated there he told the Sakyans: ‘Where is the prince? I too wish to see him.’ [685]

Then unto him named Asita did the Sakyans show their son, the prince, like blazing gold fashioned by a skilled craftsman in an open forge, in all glory and splendid appearance. [686]

Seeing the prince, like a crested flame all ablaze, clean as the spotless moon, the lord of the stars, the sky roamer, and shining like the sun in the autumnal sky free of clouds, he, overjoyed, gained immense delight.[687]

The sky deva held aloft a parasol (of state) with countless ribs and a thousand tiers, and yak tailed whisks with golden handles fanned but the bearers of the whisks and parasol were not to be seen (invisible deva were doing the work). [688]

When the matted hair ascetic the sage named Ka.nhasiri saw him who was like a golden ornament placed upon a woollen blanket, with the white parasol of state held above, he with heart intent, and pleased in mind received (the child).  [689]

Receiving (in his arms) the bull-like male, (son) of the Sakyans, he (Asita) who had gained mastery in the lore of signs (of a great being) and the (Vedic) hymns, as he investigated, with gladdened heart cried out: ‘Unsurpassed is he, the noblest of men.’ [690]

Then calling to mind his own departure (from this world) he shed tears in unbecoming manner. The Sakyans seeing the seer weeping said to him: ‘Let there be no danger for the prince!’ [691]

Seeing the Sakyans saddened the seer said: ‘I call to mind no harm coming upon the prince, nor will any danger befall him; he is not an insignificant man, be comforted in heart. [692]

This prince will attain the highest enlightenment, he, the one who visions the supreme purity, with compassion for the many folk for their welfare, will turn the wheel of Dhamma and the holy life (proclaimed by him) will be widespread. [693]

‘And what is left of my life here will not be long and before that my death will take place and such as I am I will not hear the teaching of him of unique endeavour, therefore am I afflicted, overcome by calamity and distressed. [694]

Arousing immense joy to the Sakyans, he who led a life of celibacy (Asita), set out from the royal court and with compassion for his own nephew stirred him  in the teaching of the one of unique endeavour. [695]

‘Immediately you hear someone say the (word) “the Enlightened One” (Buddho) and that with perfect enlightenment (Sammaasambuddho) attained he travels the path of Dhamma, go there, and asking him about the teaching, lead the holy life under that Exalted One (ask for ordination as a bhikkhu). [696]

Being counselled by him of such benevolent thoughts, by him who had seen for the future the highest purity (for him), that Naalaka [Asita’s nephew] with an accumulation of a vast store of merit, with faculties guarded, dwelt (as a recluse) awaiting the Conqueror. [697]

‘Hearing the report of the Supreme Conqueror’s turning of the wheel of the Dhamma, he went up to him and gaining favour on seeing him, the mighty bull among seers, asked the great Sage about the highest way of life of a sage when the message of him named Asita came true. [698]

The rest of this sutta refer to Ven. Naalaka’s conversation with the Blessed One.

Albany – Esperance

Last week I went on an information gathering trip from Perth to Albany and Esperance and back to Perth with a work colleague. We drove a new vehicle along the Albany Highway to Albany, the South Coast Highway via Ravensthorpe (and Hopetoun) to Esperance and passed through many small country towns along the way. We met and interviewed local officials who emphasised various issues. It was very interesting and I learned a lot about the region. We saw many blue gum plantations, grain fields, roads, port and mining facilities and learned about water, power and transport infrastructure in these regions.

I have been to Albany several times and last went there in January this year on holiday with my children. This work trip was the first time I have ever been to Esperance. It is a lovely town with a population of around 15,000. It would be an ideal place for a family holiday.

I particularly enjoyed seeing the landscape of the Great Southern and lower Goldfield Esperance regions. We passed through the Fitzgerald River National Park and the Cape Le Grand National Park. Both parks have quite spectacular rock formations and beaches. While passing through these places, my colleague and I both commented on how lovely it would be to live in close proximity to these beautiful places. These must have deep cultural significance for the Aboriginal people who live in the region now and in the past.